02/22/2023, 21.51
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Quake tragedy reopens debate over Turkey’s nuclear projects

by Dario Salvi

A Russian nuclear power plant is under construction in Mersin  with one reactor set to start operating at the end of the year. Supporters say that one plant in five is located in seismic active areas. Its builder, Rosatom, claims the planned reactors can withstand a magnitude 9 earthquake. In a plea to government and opposition, activists and civil society groups are calling for a common front against the project.


Milan (AsiaNews) - The devastating earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on 6 February, followed by thousands of aftershocks, some of them of strong intensity, have reopened the debate on nuclear energy.

Turkey is building a nuclear plant in Akkuyu, in the southern province of Mersin, with Rosatom, a Russian state corporation, which includes four 1,200 MWe VVER1200 units, three of which are already under construction.

The plant is expected to generate 27.5 terawatt hours or around one-tenth cent of the country's electricity by the time it is completed in 2026.

However, more and more critics are raising their voice. At a press conference, the Mersin Anti-nuclear Platform warned that Mersin, although less touched by the recent quake, is in a seismic zone.

In an appeal to both the government and the opposition, Turkey’s Human Rights Association (İnsan Hakları Derneği, İHD) called for a common front – regardless of the outcome of the 14 May elections – to stop the construction of the nuclear power plant.

For Osman Koçak, a spokesperson for the Mersin Anti-nuclear Platform, “This wave of earthquakes has shown us that earthquakes are, despite all scientific and technological advances of humankind, natural events for which we can make estimations but we cannot foresee the time, the place, the magnitude of, and therefore the area to be affected and the destruction to result.”

Koçak also noted that the Mersin area was struck by earthquakes and tsunamis between 1953 and 2023, the same region where the plant is under construction. For this reason, Rosatom's claims that the plant could withstand a magnitude of 9 is totally baseless.

Meanwhile, the ground continues to shake in Turkey and Syria, with two more quakes  measuring 6.4 and 5.8 in Hatay province with six more deaths and almost 300 injured, some seriously. Injuries have also been reported in Aleppo and Idlib, Syria. At present, the overall death toll tops 46,000.

The Akkuyu plant is about 338 km from the epicentre of the 6 February earthquake and, at least on paper, should survive strong earthquakes.

However, the Fukushima plant disaster shows that even in a country like Japan, which is used to regular seismic activity, the best plans can come to nought when certain calamities strike.

In the end, few Turks are likely to trust Rosatom’s claim that the possibility of a magnitude 9 earthquake in the vicinity of the Akkuyu reactor "is approximately once every 10,000 years”

A Turkish official told the Associated Press that the authorities have no immediate plans to reassess the project.

For Andrew Whittaker, a professor of civil engineering at the University at Buffalo, “There's no reason to be concerned, but there's always a reason to be cautious”.

For anti-nuclear activists, this is not enough and worries people on Cyprus, on both the Turkish and the Greek of the island’s divide, who would be very exposed in the event of a nuclear disaster.

Not so says the World Nuclear Association, according to whom about 20 per cent of existing reactors are located in areas of significant seismic activity, like the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Plant which is in a region where quakes of up to 8.5 magnitude can occur.

Turkey’s Mersin area was chosen because it was considered one of the safest" in the region in seismic terms.

How things will unfold will also be affected by economic and geopolitical factors amid great international tensions sparked first by the war in Syria – where Turkey and Russia are on opposing sides vis-à-vis Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – and now by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

When the plant is completed, at a cost estimated to be around US$ 20 billion, it will have a total capacity of 4,800 megawatts of electricity, satisfying 10% of the country's needs.

The first of four reactors is expected to be up and running by the end of the year. According to the government, if the power plant started operating now it could provide enough power for a city of about 15 million people, like Istanbul.

Rosatom has a 99.2 per cent stake in the project and is in charge of construction, maintenance, operation and decommissioning.

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